No announcement yet.

But for the Grace of God 1

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • #31
    I've taken plenty of chronological liberties here again, for story purposes

    The next years were blessedly calm.

    The alliance with Deirdre had ended, the suspicion towards them grew with every year, and on the other hand the Gaians had griped about the end of the democracy. The message had been given indirectly, Miriam and Deirdre hadn't spoken since last time.

    Honestly, Miriam considered allowing the democratic constitution to become active again. Without the University as a threat, and people calming down, there was something to say to allow God's People to take some more control of their own bases. But she decided to wait until the people from the University were fully integrated in their society, and then reconsider it.

    The road network between the bases grew, and one could travel from Terrible Swift Sword, deep in the Monsoon Jungle, to Valley of the Faithful by speeder. It still wasn't a casual thing to do, but people became more mobile. Teraformers worked year after year. Bit by bit, the planet was tamed.

    With the war over, there was time to consider several projects. Some of them did not even reach Miriam, except to inform her of their rejection. The project to adapt the genome of the people to increase the quality of man sounded like the act of hubris only Zhakarov would do, and the other idea about having teraformers work in harmony with Planet sounded more like something Deirdre would come up with. But another project was more interesting.

    The Virtual World it was called. It was based on techniques found in two of the alien artifacts, ginving them a much more efficient way to program it. Each and every single Network Node would allow its citizens to step into... well, a virtual world, all at the same time. People would hear, see, even feel the things there.

    Then there was the merchant exchange. The economy had continued to develop. The Conclave kept a strong hold on the vital industries and agriculture, making sure that no matter what happened, no Believer would be reduced to poverty. But as new inventions were made and new luxuries became available, trade increased. Terrible Swift Sword, End of Darkness and Throne of God sold wooden statues, Voice Of God took full advantadge to the Cain and the Abel nearby and even House of Martyrs managed to scrounge things from their relatively barren lands, not to mention their close connections to the Gaians. Energy had become a mature currency. And now they would construct a place where all that trade could be centralized.

    Because energy was getting scarce. The Believer Faction was spreading wide, as Miriam had wished, but parts of the Conclave had seriously underestimated the job of al lthe elected governments in keeping the economy running. Those people had been able to carry the effort in controlling the economy of their cities. Now, countless of manhours, megajouls and space was used up in priests trying to run an economy. Father Nielsen, normally unflappable had been known to lose his temper a few times thinking of all the things his team could have done with the wasted energy. Both proponents of a more free market approach and a return to a democratic model lobbied. Miriam listened to them and told them she'd consider. And she did.

    Part of her disliked the idea of letting loose the free market and all its sinfulness. She disliked greed, but then, she also disliked sloth, and many of the citizens, no longer faced with immediate dangers of starvation were
    slacking off, which meant more effort had to be given to controls, which meant bureaucracy, waste of energy and Father Nielsen being grouchy. Miriam would wait, for now, once the last weeds born of Zhakarov's seeds had perished, there would be elections, and then she would consider.

    And then, near Time of Salvation at the end of the 22nd century, an alarm was given. A rover was appraching from the south. The rovers stopped once they came in reach of the colony.

    "This is Time Of Salvation, unidentified craft, do you copy?"

    "We copy... Holy crap, we didn't expect more people to have survived! This is Captain Beauregard, UN expeditonary Force. Please, tell me you're not Spartans."

    "UN? Spartans?" The man on the other end was stunned. Both of those names were parts of stories told. Things their grandparents knew about. "No, we're not Spartans... eh... we'll send someone. Can you contact your leader, we'll contact ours." The man put down his microphone. "UN and Spartans? Dear Lord, we've got ghosts of the past coming by for a visit. Sir, I think we'll need to contact the Conclave."


    The third time... Miriam thought. The third time she was about to speak to a new group. A new leader

    The third time she would meet someone she thought to have buried. Pravin Lal. And with him, the UN. The thoughts gave her butterfly and cramps in her stomach, each in turn.

    Pravin Lal was a good man, and more survivors were a thing to rejoice, but unlike Deirdre, this time the flag of the UN was flown. The UN that she had betrayed a century ago.

    She really did not want to go to war with Pravin Lal.

    The technician to the right gave a signal. Miriam held the cross on he rneck, gave a quick prayer and nodded. The screen came on.

    Pravin Lal looked just like the last time she had seen him.

    The last time she had seen him was on board of the Unity, seeing the entire mission fall apart.

    But he smiled widely when he saw her, as a thirsting man seeing water. I'm sorry, Pravin, but I'm not what you think I am

    "Miriam!" He said. "I'm so glad you're still alive! Same way as I am, I suppose?"

    Miriam nodded, feeling a smile on her lips, though it was somewhat sad. "The grace of the Lord, with Zhakarov's invention as His tool. I'm glad to see you too, Pravin."

    "It took us a long time to find each other, Liuetenant Commander, but I'm glad to see someone of the old crew again! And I can tell you, we couldn't have found you at a better time!"

    Miriam breathed in. He'd find out, best to get this over with. "Pravin... there are things you should know. I... do not consider myself part of the Mission anymore. I've encountered Deirdre, and she feels the same way."

    Pravin's face was everything she had feared. "No, Miriam, not you too. We can't let it all happen all over again, the wars, the divisions. We both have seen where that leads to."

    "We both have seen the horrors of war, Pravin, but it is just part of the wages of sin. I... would like humanity to be united. Especially with these mindworms. But if we unite, we must be a virtuous union." She licked her lips. "The UN lacks in virtue."

    Lal's shoulders sagged. "Please Miriam, tell me at least you're respecting your citizen's freedoms. That what you said doesn't mean you're going the way of the CSA?"

    Miriam breathed in and out. "For a few decades, we did have free elections. But war broke out, and people abused their freedoms. Perhaps they will be reinstated one day."

    "War?" Lal said. "War with whom?" His face was growing ashen, and he looked his age suddenly.

    "Zhakarov." Miriam said, feeling as if each word she was a bullet firing in the man she would have liked to call friend. "I could not tolerate him corrupting souls. It is done now. Though he escaped."

    There was a long silence.

    "I... can't say I'm sorry Pravin. I do what I know is the righteous course. But... I do regret hurting you. I know you believe in this, I know you are a good man. I want to... help you. The Lord knows we can ill afford to quarrel. But even for our friendship, I cannot step away from what I know is right, nor will I try to hide it from you. I am Sister Miriam Godwinson, leader of the Conclave of the Lord's Believers."

    Finally, Pravin spoke in a dead voice. "So be it. I... I don't know if I can ever forgive this, Miriam, but as leader, I have to think of my people. Sister Godwinson... we need your help."

    Miriam nodded. "I heard soemthing about Spartans."

    Pravin nodded. "They've survived. Santiago survived. They've attacked us. We lost our headquarters to them. They razed it to the ground. We're under siege now. We've got two bases left. We can't hold them. We sent those rovers to see if they could find a place for us to flee to but... I don't think we have the time to get out of here."

    Miriam felt a fire stir in her. Santiago. She too lived. "You will have my help, Commisioner Pravin Lal." he said. "Where do we send people."


    It was on Planetfall, the first day of the 23rd century that Sister Miriam inaugurated the Virtual World project. Countless of cities had been building network nodes while the project was undertaken.

    And so, Miriam was standing on the top of a virtual platform that stood on a balcony of a church of New-Jeruzalem, looking down at tens of thousands of people, or rather, virtual representations of people, each staring up at her.

    "Good people!" She said. "Today, we look back upon what we have wrought, and we allow ourselves not sinful pride, but satisfaction. One century after we have arrived here, desperate survivors from a degenerated world, here on this hostile planet, we look upon this world and smile. For with the help of the Lord, we have started to tame this world.

    We now no longer fear every day for humanity's survival, for we are spread wide, and our power to destroy beasts that threaten us grows daily. We have reclaimed much of what we have lost, and gain what we never had, and yet, we remain humble, know that we should give thanks to the Lord each day in prayer, and in virtuous deed. So, shall we continue to flower.

    But there is yet another challenge. And I look upon the youths here. You are, mostly, of the sixth generation. Each generation before has had a challenge.The rigours of Planetfall, the discovery of mindworms, the tragedies as some bases were taken, the war with the sinful University. Now too, have you your challenge."

    She pointed west. "There, west of Terrible Swift Swords are a peaceful people. You have heard of them, as rumors spread. The Peacekeepers, and their leader, Pravin Lal, long though dead. They are under attack. Not by mindworms, but by other men. Men that are still known for their actions on board the Unity. Spartans!"

    "Spartans, a name that stands for brutality, tyranny and arrogant pride in their prowess. Their leader is still Santiago, an evil that has come with us from Earth, kept alive so it could test us." She held her cross. "We shall overcome them. The Spartans of ancient times were fearsome, but they were heathen, and thus they fell, as all godless nations will. I call upon you, to face a great challenge. I call upon you in a CRUSADE, to go west, far from your homes, and fight a people who have taken their names from a people that lived to fight, and vanquish them!"

    "Brave young Chrisitan soldiers, knights! Shall you rise to the challenge?"

    And all over the continent, in the network nodes, people roared.
    Last edited by Rand Al'Tor; March 29, 2007, 06:35.
    Fire and ice and death awaiting. But he was steel, he was steel.


    • #32
      "It's the end of the line for me." Kauffman thought, as he sat down before the interrogator, who with the lights dim and Kauffman tied down and blindfolded spat on him. He was being charged with attempting to blow up Headquarters and he knew very well that he was guilty. He had made almost no mistake. The plan was almost flawless. From the obtaining of explosives from a renegade Knight to the organizing of a group of people willing to do the job, to the place ment of the bombs. But the one mistake he had made was not making sure his daughter was asleep. It was her that told on him, that doomed the project from the outset.
      Then he got right to the point. "Right now we've already got enough to execute you. But luckily for you, since we're at war with the Spartans, you have a second option..." Kauffman interrupted "You want me go on this crusade against the Spartans in exchange for my freedom. How many ways can I say no? Let's see; No, No way, Not a chance, I'd rather be have mind worms plant their eggs in my skull..." At this the interrogator got angry. "LISTEN SCUM! You can either help carry out God's will, or die horrifically, which come to think of it, I'd rather see you do. Now pick yourself. Your wife wasn't given anything half as good as you're getting..." This caught Kauffman's attention. "Leave her out of this!" The interrogator shrugged. "Sorry, but she refused to cooperate no matter what I said. So she dies... Unless, of course, you have something to say about it. What do you say?" And with that Kauffman submitted, and became part of the crusade.
      KONG was here.


      • #33
        "So, what trade did you manage to make, Father Nielsen?" Miriam asked. She still had not spoken to Deirdre ever since finding out she controlled mindworms. Perhaps it was petty, but she still couldn't stomach the idea of speaking to her. And she worried what either of them would say.

        "A very interesting one... information about Planet and its creatures. We gave them our information on high energy chemistry we recently developped. A lot of their knowledge is academic, a lot of potential for the future, but no immediate use, and of course, filled with their mysticism. But their theories are sound, and there are three important practical uses."

        He looked at her back as Miriam looked out of the small window. It was raining heavily. It reflected Miriam's mood. Preparations to get people across the sea to the other continent were advancing too slow. And one of the priests had she grown fond of had died. And she hadn't cried.

        "The first one is the one Lady Skye was the most... enthusiastic about. We know that the Gaians have always been trying to minimize their influence on Planet. Well, apparently, with some help of their monstrous little friends, they've been finding out just what exactly IS causing changes to the ecosystems, except for the most obvious things."

        He smirked. "Then there's a whole lot of conjencture, speculation and assumptions, all leading to the conclusiion that we have to be very careful with the planet, and we'll get less mindworm attacks. Now where it gets interesting again is where they actually adapted their society. They've started putting hard limits on excavation, waste-production, fertilization, just about everything. They've even put limits on how many children people should have, though from what we've known, that one's likely a suggestion. For now, it seems to run.

        Now, I've looked over this and made some estimations of the effects on our colonies. Basically, we'd have to pretty much grind food production to 'just enough to feed the ones we have and a little more', and our industry'd get a serious beating. One thing the Gaians noticed, and I think that IS plausible, with resources limited like that, we can skip a lot of the controlling. If you know you're just going to have THAT much material and not more, you won't be wasting them."

        Miriam shook her head. "No, we're in the middle of a war. Closing factories is NOT an option. Besides, Planet shall bend to our will, not the other way around. Let those mindworms come. We'll wipe them all out sooner or later. Besides, we have nothing but their word for it. They've shown how much they can be trusted."

        Father Nielsen nodded. "As you say, sister. The second practical application then... well, I really don't think we shall be using that one." He coughed. "The Gaians know enough of mindworms now to... breed them. And now so do we."

        "WHAT?" Miriam turned around. "We're trying to wipe that scourge of the Planet and she's making MORE of them?"

        Nielsen didn't look in the least surprised by the outburst. "At least once to have these test results. They've had a few mock combats and it seems they listen to orders well enough if matched to a..."

        "No. Over my dead body shall we fight side by side with those beasts! Sparta shall fall, but it will be thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of our righteous knights, not her pet monsters!" She sat down.

        Nielsen nodded. "I figured so. Even Lady Deirdre seemed disturbed to offer the suggestion, but I believe she hopes that we shall be more kindly disposed to the mindworms, and Planet, if they've showed themselves useful to us. I did tell her that we were not as... pragmatic as Zhakarov."

        He continued. "The third part of the investigation. We've known for decades the existance of telepathy, as one of the powers of the mindworms. The Gaians, thanks to their... bonding... with the creatures have managed to make some discoveries. Humans that had a gift for communicating with mindworms often had other talents as well. Nothing to the extent of the rampages of the mindworms, but more subtle. Mindreading, putting influence on minds, some illusions" The researcher sounded somewhat excited now. "They've found ways to find latent telepaths and train them. In fact, they seem to be gathering all of them in an organization."

        Miriam frowned. "Telepaths. That is... useful information. Is it known whether those talents can arise spontaneously?"

        Nielsen shook his head. "There have been no confirmed cases, but there's always stories. Still, these things will become known soon enough. If the Gaians could discover it, so can others. Also, this might very well be a boon in the war, I'm thinking mainly of our Inquisitors."

        Miriam nodded. "You speak wisdom Father Nielsen. Organize the tests among the flock. But keep discrete. These powers may tempt one and doom their souls. I want each trained empath to be an ordained priest." Nielsen opened his mouth. "I know Father Nielsen, if these talents have genetic origin, we shall likely be limiting their number, but I rather have less empaths, than rogue empaths twisting people's minds."

        "I'll see it done, Sister." Nielsen said.


        The people in UN Education Agency were gathered for the transport foil to arrive. It had been a long time since there had been good news. The land around the base had long since been razed by Spartans, and the barely two thousand citizens hardly had enough for themselves. And with the Spartans regularly attacking the base, all industry went to producing weapons.

        Still, the feelings were decidedly mixed. Lal had known he couldn't outright lie about the nature of Believer society, and many felt this was a 'deal with the devil' But with the Spartans banging on the door, the few complaints were mostly ignored.

        The Believer foil entered the airlock, the entered the breathable air of the Peacekeeper docks. Moments later, a hundred crusaders marched into the base, led by their knight-captain. Swords at their side and lasers on their back. That last thing was noticed, and caused looks of dissapointement among the people. Their own soldiers, as well as the Spartans, had been using Impact weaponry for some time.

        As the Knight Captain was welcomed by Commisioner Pravin Lal himself, a few more people came out. They were all dressed in blck, crosses hanging from their nexks, carrying suitcases. Lal shook the captain's hand and sent him to the barracks to meet his Peacekeeper comrades before going to meet them. "Father," He said, bowing his head slightly in respect to the oldest of them, walking in front. "Welcome to UN Education Agency. I regret that we cannot welcome you with the luxury we would have liked."

        The leader of the priests, a broad, grey-haired man, bowed his head in return. "Too much luxury sickens the soul, High-commisioner. We thank you for your welcome. I am Father Killpatrick. We've come here to provide spiritual support for the troops that will come, as well as any citizens that might need it."

        Lal nodded. "Be most welcome then. I do not know if you wish to stay in the barracks? We could also ask for the local churches to host you? Though I do not know how great your theological differences with them are."

        The man smiled. "Oh, I'm sure that as men of God, we should be able to peacefully compare our views. Staying in the church seems like a wonderful suggestion. Perhaps we'll even ask to use it for services."

        Some more words were exchanged and the men left. Moments later, the colonists returned to their work. Pravin spoke to one of his agents. "Keep an eye on the local church. Don't do anything." He stroked his beard. "Eight priests for hundred men. Of course, there's more to come but still..."


        A few nights later, a few hundred kilometres to the west, two Spartans were standing guard. They didn't banter or dozed, one of them carrying IR goggles as they scanned the night. At the other side of the camp stood two others, while two more circled the building.

        Just as the two circling the camp left, movement came from the bushes as another Spartan came towards them. The one that had been hiding out in the wilderness. He calmly came towards the two Spartans.

        "What's the matter, Guido?" asked one of them.

        The other man was silent as he came closer, pointing at his filter.

        "Oh, the breather, password and I'll let you in."

        In the meantime, the guards encircling reached the other side, and moved to return.

        "What's the matter?" sounded in the radio.

        "Guido's filter is malfunctioning. Coming in soon." The man answered.

        "Come on, Guido, give us the passw... wha..."

        And then 'Guido' suddenly lashed out, his fist slamming with force in the Spartan's throat. At exactly the same time, a series of shredders silently flew through the air and faultlessly buried themselves in the other guard's skull.

        'Guido' knelt by the door, quickly placing a device on the lock and furiously typing, ignoring the words from the radio and the other guards, who started running towards them as soon as they heard the two 'thuds' of the bodies hitting the ground. Nor did he pay attention to six other shadows that came from the sparsely covered ground around them.

        More silent shots took care of the rest of the guards, just as both the airlock doors were forced open, letting nitrogen saturated air into the barracks just as the inside guard screamed the alarm. She managed to raise his particle rifle and fire off a few shots before a bomb fell inside and hissed as it released a gas. Soon, she fell, and the awakened Spartan soldiers returned to their slumber.


        Sergeant Nichols woke up with the feel of a slight sting in her neck. As she opened her eyes, a second sting just above it pierced her. Abruptly, she felt the awakening of her mind stopping. Mutely, a thought rose. drugged Immediately she started fortifying her mind. Spartans were trained to resist interrogation.

        "Sergeant, can you hear me?" came the voice. It was a warm and friendly voice, coming from the grey haired man in front of her. She saw a silver cross hanging from his neck. the Believers have arrived. HQ must know. bubbled vaguely through her head.

        "Sergeant... Jean Nichols, epsilon sqaed, serial number... 5468." she said. She had to gain time. By dawn someone would come to investigate. she looked around, trying to get information. One grey haired priest, still with that friendly smile, two more with guns on her. One was treating the injury of another. So she had hit one. her eyes then went to one that was staring intently at her. And met his blue eyes. And she suddenly felt unable to look away.

        "We haven't come to interrogate you, sergeant, we've come to help you." She felt her mental defences against the drugs weakening. A sliver of fear rose, but the combination of chemicals in her veins and those blue eyes soothed it.

        "Sergeant... Jeaan... Ni.... chols...." mechanism, don't listen to them... she was a Spartan! She could.... blue eyes.

        The voice was closer now. "you're confused, let me help you. I'm here to help you remember."

        Remember... she had forgotten? Spartan, she was Spartan... blue eyes... had to resist... "esi... lun....s...." it was hard to think....

        "You're a good woman, sergeant. Good, steadfast and loyal. Faithful. Who are you loyal to?"

        She knew that. She had known. But she couldn't remember, she kept looking in the blue eyes, trying to find the answer. She was loyal but... there was something wrong. She couldn't remember. There was a symbol... an arrow downward, but it was blurring... and spinning... upside down.... arrow upward... "I.... am loyal... to.... to..." her voice sounded so far away, while the other voice sounded close. but she couldn't answer, why couldn't she answer?

        "shhht... don't worry... it's okay... people have been confusing you. But I'm here to help. You serve God, sergeant. The God that created Heaven and Planet." The voice sounded reverent. "He loves you, sergeant, and He wants you to serve Him."

        There was something weird... blue eyes, but yeah... they'd been trying to confuse her, so that was normal... wasn't it? The arrow upward changed, the diagonal lines at the top straightening, then lowering. A cross. She felt herself vaguely nodding. She was confused, someone had tricked her. A good thing there was the voice to explain things.

        And the blue eyes to calm her down.


        The next morning they left for the north. There were Spartans there. Their captain answered the confused reports from the other group's captain. Sergeant Nichols gave a grim smile. They had tricked them into fighting against God, it was only fair they'd return the favour.

        Then the signal was given, and Sergeant Nichols shouldered her rifle and shot one of the Spartans head off.

        "Burn in hell!" She cried out, her shout drowned out by the cries of rage of her comrades, and the surprised and outraged screams of the godless Spartans. She knew they were alarming the troops further north, and that soon they'd come, and they'd be between hammer and anvil. They'd all die.

        But she didn't mind dying for the Lord. After, she was a Believer.


        In the meantime, the group of Inquisitors made their way back to the Peacekeeper base, carrying some Impact weapons that were to be sent back home with the foil. The Believers would soon enough fight with equal weapons.
        Fire and ice and death awaiting. But he was steel, he was steel.


        • #34
          The two Peacekeepers walked through the land south of UN Education Agency. For civilians to leave the base was dangerous in peaceful times, but these were not ordinary civilians.These were reporters.

          Granted, with a population of 1600 they couldn't be full time reporters, and the cameras affixed on their shoulders were cheap, but they were reporters nonetheless. With all the curiosity that came with it. And right now, they were investigating the going ons of a set of Believer priests that had left the base, as they had done before.

          They had tried to follow them, only to find the priests had arranged for speeders just out of the city. Now, the two of them had been following their trails for half the night and a good deal of the morning.

          "Hey, there someone's over there!" The front one said, pointing in the distance. As he said, a man was wandering aimlessly over the reddish ground. As they came closer, they saw he wore a uniform and carried a rifle. Which he aimed at the two as soon as he saw them.

          "Oh ****! Spartan!" The rear one said, raising his hands. "We're dead!"

          The front one also raised his hands, a terrified grin on his face. "Stay cool, he's alone... maybe... we can talk our way out of it."

          The Spartan came closer, hesitantly. The two peacekeepers saw he seemed disoriented and confused. Not a normal state for the disciplined folk. "Who are you?" He demanded, shifting his aim from one to the other.

          "Michael Lewis and Edward Harris, we're reporters from UN EA." He spoke. "You know, the base nearby."

          The man licked his lips, nodding. "Yes, yes that makes sense. Near the base. We were... we were oing to..." He seemed to think of something, then gave them a hard stare again. "Do you know who I am?" There was an edge of desperation in his voice.

          "Ehm... you look like a Spartan soldier?" said the reporter hesitantly.

          "Yes... no!" He said, then lowered his gun, clutching his head. "I... I'm not sure anymore..." He stood like that for a moment before raising his gun yet. "Stay where you are!"

          "I'm not moving." The front reporter said, curiosity replacing fear in his eyes. "Perhaps I can help you somehow. What do you mean, you're not sure?"

          "I... we... the Spartans they... they.... confused us. Maybe. I'm a man of... faith... but... I don't remember... ever going to church. They must have... wiped it, but... my memory is..." he shook his head. "My comrades they, they've gone to attack the other Spa... the Spartans... I don't know. They're all sure... but... I... I don't know anymore. I don't wanna be a traitor but I don't know who I'm loyal too anymore."

          The reporter nodded. "That's a pretty bad situation you're in." he spoke calmly. "Let's see if we can help you find out more. Tell me, when did you remember those things?"

          The Spartan lowered his gun again, frowning in concentration. "I... I... this night there was... I don't remember... there was a voice... and suddenly I remembered the Spartans tricking me and... There were men there... But... it's hard to remember. The guards were dead. Why were the guards dead?"

          The reporter spoke once more. "Tell me, those men... did they wear black with silver crosses... was there a grey haired man..."

          The mumbling Spartan fell silent for a moment, then nodded. "Yes... yes there was one... he... HE was the voice... there was his voice and... and blue eyes. And crosses, crosses everywhere... You know what happened?"

          The two reporters exchanged a look. The front one's eyes glimmered. "Oh, I think I have an idea. I know a doctor back at base. perhaps I should take you there. And see if we can be sure."

          The rear one was wide eyed in shock. "Sweet mercy, the Believers are. This is huge... Lewis, are you sure we should..."

          Lewis grinned. "Are you kidding? The fundies are brainwashing people into being religous? Oh, hell yeah, I'm sure this is something that's gota be known!"


          The reaction was as expected. The Peacekeeper population had been uncomfortable with the Believer zeal in battle, as well as the soldiers' tendency to vocally object to 'immoral' behaviour of the population. This was fuel on the fire. Hundreds of people protested, which was quite a large number considering the size of the base. Soldiers threathened to go on strike. The Believer Probe Team's residence at the local church was ransacked, and the same drugs found in the veins of the Spartans were found on their possession.

          Lal and Miriam were soon in contact.

          "Sister Godwinson... What... on Planet... did you do?" He looked harried and desperate.

          Miriam's lips were a thin line. "What was necessary, commisioner. The Spartans have numbers on their side. We won't win this war by playing fair."

          "You... brainwashed enemy soldiers... and then had them go on suicide missions!" He pinched the bridge of his nose.

          "Yes, we know. EVERYONE on Planet knows, because you can't keep your datalinks in check!" Miriam said with annoyance.

          "Miriam, the ends do not justify the means. I cannot accept this, and I will not gag my own population so your priests can go commit atrocities!"

          Miriam scowled. "Those 'atrocities' saved the lives of countless of men, yours and mine, Pravin. But fine... I'll withdraw our inquisitors. As soon as you let them out of jail that is. The foil should bring in reinforcements any moment now."

          "No, Miriam, I'm afraid... that's not how it's going to go." He sighed. "This pact of Brotherhood has been voided by your actions, Miriam. I want your foil to come and collect all of your troops... and withdraw from UN territory."

          Miriam's mouth fell open. "You cannot be serious. This is suicide. You cannot hope..."

          "I KNOW THAT!" Lal snapped. He leaned in his seat. "I know that. It's not my choice. I'd just kick those priests out and leave it at that but... the people have spoken. They want your troops out, now."

          Miriam slammed her hand on the table. "The fools! Lal, you can't let them..."

          "I can, and I will. They believe that it's better to try and defeat the Spartans, and perhaps lose and get conquered then... risk getting mindraped by your people."

          "You're our allies, we wouldn't... Are you just going to let them destroy everything you made?"

          Lal gave a sad smile. "No, Miriam, I'm going to make sure that what we made... we remained true to it till the end. I'd rather it end here, then that I destroy everything we stood for." He sighed. "The people have spoken, I will obey."

          Miriam sgihed, sounding defeated. "I... I see. It's a shame I never managed to convert you, Lal. You'd have made a fine priest."

          "You've got your cause, I've got mine. Sorry it had to be this way, Miriam. I'll free your priests as soon as the ship arrives. And take the Spartans you brainswashed with you as well. Lal out."
          Fire and ice and death awaiting. But he was steel, he was steel.


          • #35
            The inevitable happened a few years later. Miriam had been sleeping when she was awakened by the knights guarding her room. Hastily dressing, Miriam rushed towards the communication room. When she saw Lal on the monitor she abruptly stopped, not even sitting down in the chair.

            The chief surgeon of the Unity seemed to have aged 20 years since their last talk. He was dressed in a green surgeon's outfit, and in the low light of the room he was in she spotted bloodstains. There were dark rings under his eyes, and the usually impeccably groomed beard was frazzled. The connection was poor, crackling making the man hard to hear. In the background, she could hear several other people shouting.

            "Pravin!" She said. "What's happening there?"

            The man's voice was sad, but calm. "The end, Miriam, the end. UN Information Exchange has fallen. The Spartans control the whole base. I've basically given most of the troops permission to surrender. But the rest of us are making a last stand here." He sagged in the chair a bit. "The Spartans seem to be taking their time though, So... I figured I'd talk a bit while we waited." He chuckled, though his eyes became moist. "Sorry I got you out of bed."

            Miriam sat down, clenching her fist. "It's all right. I'm glad." She forced herself to remain calm. "Is there anything in particular you wish to talk about?"

            Lal sighed. "I... I'm not sure. I just... would like this to be remembered. I don't know why I'm asking you this. You... left the UN as well after all but... I still... think we were on to something. It could have been better than before. We tried... we really did and now... I just want there to be someone... something that survives to remind people of what we did."

            Miriam nodded. "You will not be forgotten, Lal. I promise you." She said. "Pravin, this sounds crude but... I would not forgive me if I didn't speak. Your time on Planet might end, have you considered the state of your soul?"

            Lal smiled and shook his head. "Once a Chaplain, always a chaplain, aren't you, Lieutenant Commander Godwinson?" The words weren't mocking. "No, I know it would make you feel better but... I'm not going to lie to you. I..."

            There was a loud explosion and the sound of screams and the fire of particle guns. Lal looked to the side, fear flashing in his eyes before being covered up again. "Well, they've arrived. Thanks for your time, Miriam."

            With that he pulled himself to his full heigth and folded his arms, looking at the battle happening beyond Miriam's sight.

            It was a short battle. As the last screams faded two men in the brown and black Spartan uniform grabbed the fallen leader, tying his arms behind his back. A third one looked at the screen, meeting Miriam's dark glare. He spoke. "Lal secured, he was talking to the Believer leader. Conenction still open, do I close it down?"

            There were sounds from the other end. "Confirmed." The man stepped away, leaving the connection open. Miriam didn't speak, merely watched as the two soldiers forced Lal on his knees, only his head remaining within her view.

            Then the soldiers not holding Lal saluted, and a familiar voice rang out. "So, are you finally done with pointless gestures?" Santiago appeared within sight of the camere, her uniform immaculate, except for the dust covering it, results of the battle.

            As Miriam watch, she drew back her arm and delivered a harsh punch across Lal's face. "THAT is for the men who died pointlessly." She snapped angrily, before turning away. "I'll deal with you soon enough."

            She turned to Miriam, nodding. Her face was as she had seen it on the Unity, a bit older. Likely, she was due for another longivity therapy. "Sister Miriam." she said with a grim smile. "We haven't talked much, have we? Just enough for you to declare your war on me."

            "More didn't need to be said." Miriam said darkly.

            Santiago scowled. "Really, Sister Godwinson. You're on another continent. You've arranged troops to be transported over dangerous waters, only to have them sent back after a few years because this weakling didn't have the stomach for a war, and not enough sense to stay out of it. And still you are listening to his simpering?"

            She breathed deeply. "What you used on my soldiers was dirty, Sister, but it was a war, and I respect that you used all resources you have. But I think it's about time this war is done. You didn't fail, this man never gave you a chance. His own fault. Let's move on."

            "You've not been punsihed for your crimes yet." Miriam said in a low voice.

            "My crimes? MY CRIMES?" Santiago slammed a fist on the table. "WHAT crime? This war? HE is the one that claims the right to tell us all what to do! Was I supposed to just claim him to be the only legitimate authority, while sitting right next to us? Through his own words, he was a threat, and we removed him!"

            She fodled her arms. "Or is this STILL about the Unity? About my 'betrayal', because I don't see you waving the UN Flag, Lieutenant-Commander." The colonel said acidly. "Don't think to claim the moral high ground just because you abandonned the UN a bit later than I did."

            Miriam just glared back. "I made the choice I did for virtue, not to grab power for myself. Pravin Lal is a good man, and I hoped to see him turn to the way of virtue. You are nothing but a dictator."

            "How would you know? You barely know my name." Santiago said. "I've taken command because I am the most capable one. Because we can't afford to listen to whimpering cowards like Lal. There are mindworms, traces of aliens and who knows what. I'm making sure we're prepared for them. "

            She sat down where Lal had sat. "We've fought your men, Miriam. And if your faction has what it takes to get troops so far from home, and defeat Spartans in battle, then you are obviously worthy of leading men. You are on one continent, I am on the other. Give reparations for the soldiers that you took from me, and let us end this war."

            There was a moment of silence. Lal was looking at the screen from his position. When Miriam spoke, her voice was like stone. "I will not be swayed from my course, Santiago. I will not allow sin to take root on this planet anymore than it has. Zhakarov found that out... and so shall you."

            "Ah, maledicta puta!"Santiago cursed. "Have it your way then!" She stood. "You'll find us a harder nut to crack than that old egghead! Oh... and one more thing Miriam. When you fight Sparta, you risk it all." She turned and aimed her shredder at Lal. "And you lose it all."

            She fired three times. Lal had just enough time to open his mouth. To scream? To curse her? Something for Miriam? Only the Lord knew. Santiago shot one shard into the man's skull and two in his chest, straight in his heart. The body spasmed once, then collapsed.

            After 200 years, more or less, and having travelled the sea of stars, Commissioner Pravin Lal died.

            Santiago gave the monitor a hard stare. "you ponder that, Sister Miriam. And if you decide to stop this senseless war, you know how to contact me." She aimed the shredder at the camera. "Santiago out." There was the sound of the shredder firing and then static.

            The room was empty, as always when Miriam had diplomatic talks. For some time Miriam stared at the static. Then she slowly, carefully got off the chair, making her way to the door.

            Outside, several people were waiting, Father Nielsen first among them. He looked concerned.

            "The Peacekeepers have fallen." Miriam said. "Pravin Lal is dead. Santiago killed him." she looked him in the eye. "The Crusade will continue."

            Father Nielsen nodded. "Understood sister." he looked around. "Everyone return to your posts or rest. You will hear about the steps to be taken in the morrow." With hushed acknowledgements and bows, the priests and laymen returned, leaving the two Earthborn alone in the austere hallway.

            "I failed him..." Miriam said when they were alone. "He is lost, Father Nielsen... he did not accept the Lord in his heart. He is lost." Nielsen wrapped an arm around her shoulder. There were tears in her eyes. Part of her chided her for her selfishness. She had seen hundred thousands Belivers come and go, and couldn't shed a tear for them anymore, yet she cried for Lal.
            Fire and ice and death awaiting. But he was steel, he was steel.